Mill permit facing legal challenge

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 SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners' approval of a contested sawmill expansion in the Selle Valley is being challenged in 1st District Court.

A half-dozen landowners adjacent to the Alpine Cedar mill filed a petition for judicial review of the board of commissioners' approval of a conditional use permit for the expansion on Monday, court records show.

The Bonner County Planning & Zoning Commission approved a permit for the mill's expansion in August 2015, but the mill's operators appealed a condition of approval that limited the facility's hours of operations in light of complaints that the county received from nearby landowners who objected to the mill's noise, emissions and vehicle traffic.

Counsel for the mill owners, Ernie and Nancy Brandt, argued the hours of operation were too stringent and effectively prevented the mill from operating for 30 percent of a calendar year.

County commissioners agreed in January to consider the appeal, ruling that P&Z had overstepped its statutory authority because the mill's noise level at the property line was measured at 49 decibels, well below the 70-db noise threshold found in the county's land use code. The board conducted a site visit and a public hearing and approved later that month a permit with relaxed hours of operation.

Neighboring landowners asked for reconsideration, mediation and for regulatory takings analyses to be conducted. Commissioners advised the landowners in February that they were turning down the request but provided no explanation as to why. Counsel for the landowners, Will Herrington, argues state law required the commissioners provide reasons for the denial, according to court records.

The landowners — Robert and Martha Betts, Terry and Deborah Ford, Donna Flood and Little Tree Mazzaré — contend the permit approval improperly allows an industrial use in an agricultural/forestry zoning district. They further argued that the board exposed its partiality over the expansion by not notifying affected landowners so they could comment on the Brandts' appeal request, which denied them due process.

“In improperly overturning the decision of the P&Z Commission, the commissioners demonstrated a bias in favor of the applicant, which made it impossible for the opponents of this application to receive a fair decision,” Herrington said in the petition.

Neighboring landowners also contend commissioners demonstrated an inability to properly evaluate claims of noise pollution because commissioners made remarks on the record that reflected “their personal affliction of hearing loss,” according to the petition.

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